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Jeff Simon: Maybe De Niro should have forgotten about Trump and remembered Bruce

Jeff Simon

It's Bruce Springsteen I feel sorry for, not the president of the United States. The president's way of courting hostility is known everywhere -- along with his success in doing so.

So when Robert De Niro took the stage on Sunday evening's Tony Awards on CBS and dropped a couple of F-bombs on Trump while the president and Dennis Rodman were otherwise occupied courting North Korea in Singapore, I didn't think all that much of it.

CBS bleeped all of De Niro's obscenities at Trump, but good old Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, within minutes, filled us in on everything De Niro had said. There was nothing unusual about any of it. De Niro has been publicly blasting away at Trump for many months now, just as you might expect from a Hollywood grandee whose father was a New York City painter.

That De Niro's bluntness was a four-letter linguistic blunt instrument right out of a Scorsese movie was no surprise.

But here, heaven help me, is the problem as I see it. DeNiro was introducing a big fat swatch of "Springsteen on Broadway" at the Tonys -- in particular, Springsteen's dark, sensitive portrait of "My Hometown," i.e. Freehold, N.J.

I have no doubt that De Niro and Springsteen agree wholeheartedly on political matters. (As yet no show business grandee has been more eloquent on the subject of the new president than Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes.) But the "disconnect" between De Niro's brutal Trump-bashing and the tone of the Springsteen song he was chosen to introduce was both immense and unfortunate.

What De Niro had, in effect, done was to turn the whole segment into the ongoing saga of Robert De Niro vs. Donald Trump. Believe me, I'm not saying that Springsteen's strangely "Our Townish" segment was all that authentically sensitive, but I do think it deserved a better chance of distinguishing itself on its own terms than it got from De Niro on Sunday's Tonys.


While we're on the subject of major Sunday television, the season finale of Showtime's "Billions" left the principals exactly where some of us guessed the show would eventually leave them from its first episode.

With its wickedly articulate and rapier-thrusting street profanity from Paul Giamati and Damian Lewis, the slashing dialogue of the show has been a festival of the kind of profanity and baroque obscenity that might be relished in New York skyscrapers, not the mean streets that have already been mythologized by Scorsese and De Niro. "Billions" isn't post-Scorsese, it's post-Mamet and rather brilliant at that.

From its opening minutes two seasons ago, "Billions" was about the Wall Street combat between billionaire trader Damian Lewis, playing Bobby Axelrod, and Paul Giamatti as U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes, the fellow who wants "Axe's" head on a platter.

You might have guessed from its first show that actors so spectacularly and similarly articulate might eventually find common cause in a script after they exhausted themselves trying to destroy each other.

And so they did on this season's finale of the show. Both Axelrod, of Axe Capital, and Rhodes, of the U. S. Justice Department, had been betrayed by the ambitions of brilliant and unscrupulous underlings.

Maggie Siff, playing the diabolical psychiatric mind-shaper caught between the two men, is now the fully unifying figure we always knew she could be. So at the end of the season Sunday, we found the three of them sitting in the Rhodes family dining room plotting their next vengeance together like the lethally gifted strategists the show has always told us they are.

God, I love "Billions" on Showtime. I wouldn't compare its excellence to the best of "The Sopranos" or "The West Sing" or "Homeland," but it has been unfailingly wicked and enjoyable in every episode thus far. If you're not catching up with it from its opening season, I think you're making a huge mistake.


So, too, I think, did you make a horrible mistake by not watching Benedict Cumberbatch's tour-de-force as "Patrick Melrose" in Showtime's five-part adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn novels.

If you're thinking small, you might say Cumberbatch deserves an Emmy when the time comes. If you're thinking in terms of the magnitude of what his full-on traumatized performance achieved, you'd have to acknowledge that it, in my opinion, is one of the greatest tours de force ever seen on premium television in the English-speaking world.

"Patrick Melrose" is why they're currently calling it "Peak TV."


The major news, for me, in the whole cultural world, is the imminent release of, yes, a previously "lost" 1963 record by the classic John Coltrane Quartet -- Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. It was recorded in 1963, shortly after the original Impulse music mogul Bob Thiele had recorded Coltrane on discs with the likes of Duke Elllington.

The record, called "Both Directions at Once," presents Coltrane looking forward to the music of "A Love Supreme" and back to the hugely popular music he'd made at Atlantic ("My Favorite Things"). The record contains Coltrane's first recorded version of "Nature Boy" and one of his most famous uptempo compositions "Impressions."

The date of its scheduled release is June 29. Says Sonny Rollins -- a man who should know -- "This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid." It's the biggest jazz news since the release of a live concert recording by the criminally under-recorded Thelonious Monk Quartet with Coltrane.

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